South Africa 178 for 2 (Lee 83*, Goswami 2-38) beat India 177 for 9 (Raj 50, Ismail 3-28) by eight wickets
Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee put on a 169-run opening stand and made a half-century apiece as South Africa eased their way to a win over India in the opening ODI in Lucknow. Only two other batters were needed to chase a small target after a disciplined effort from the visitors' bowling attack and an energetic display in the field kept India to an under-par score on a good pitch. On the way, Wolvaardt also became the youngest South African to 2000 ODI runs.
This was South Africa's seventh successive ODI victory after series sweeps over New Zealand last year and against Pakistan in January, while it also equalled their longest winning streak. South Africa have reeled off seven consecutive ODI wins twice before: first between August 2007 and July 2008, and then between February and June 2018.
India had not played ODI cricket since November 2019 and last had international action a year ago at the T20 World Cup final, and their lack of time in the middle showed. Their run-scoring was tentative, they made errors in shot-selection and placement, and their innings was bookended by collapses. Shabnim Ismail proved the destroyer-in-chief with 3 for 28, while both Marizanne Kapp and Ayabonga Khaka conceded at less than three runs an over as South Africa squeezed their hosts who did not manage a boundary after the 36th over.
At that point, Mithali Raj was still at the crease, having helped India recover from 40 for 3. She shared two partnerships of significance - a 62-run fourth-wicket stand with Harmanpreet Kaur followed by a 52-run fifth-wicket union with Deepti Sharma - and scored her 54th ODI fifty, which laid the foundation for India to post a challenging total. But Raj's dismissal in the 38th over saw India's last five wickets fold for 21 runs, which included four wickets for eight runs in 40 balls.
However, India's innings had started strongly when Smriti Mandhana struck three boundaries off the first six balls she faced but that intent proved to be a false dawn. Mandhana and her opening partner Jemima Rodrigues departed in successive overs to leave India at 18 for 2. Raj's first two boundaries calmed things down and showed her class - she bisected two cover fielders and the gap between short third man and backward point with precision - and left the power-hitting to the others.
Punam Raut cut Ismail for four but was then hurried into a pull and top-edged to fine leg, bringing Kaur to join Raj. Kaur picked up the role as aggressor, racing to a run-a-ball 40 while raising India's hundred with a flat-batted swipe to long-leg. In the next over, she went down the track in an attempt to loft Sune Luus for six, but didn't get enough on her shot and hit it straight to Ismail at long-off.
Raj was on 26 off 50 balls at the time and was left to rebuild. She accelerated slightly - her next 24 runs coming off 34 balls - and reached fifty with a single to deep square. Two balls after the milestone, she made the only mistake in her innings and hit Ismail to Wolvaardt at point. India could not recover from there and eked out just 23 runs in the final 12 overs to finish on a total that would barely challenge South Africa.
Lee started the reply by cutting Jhulan Goswami's fifth ball for four before Wolvaardt followed up with back-to-back boundaries off debutant Monica Patel. The pair took advantage of any width on offer - and India's new-ball pair provided that aplenty - and navigated spin sensibly, even when Sharma and Poonam Yadav found sharp turn. In addition to the drive that Wolvaardt has become so well known for, she was also strong on the back foot while Lee showed off her ability to sweep, as runs were readily available for South Africa.
Wolvaardt's 18th fifty - and second in successive matches - came with a cut off Goswami off the 70th ball she faced. Lee followed soon after, smashing Sharma for six to bring up her 19th half-century off 84 deliveries. The only opportunity India had to take a wicket that could have caused South Africa concern came in the 31st over when Wolvaardt drove Yadav to cover where Kaur dived to her right, but could not hold on to the chance.
India eventually had some luck late in the South Africa innings, when Wolvaardt was given out lbw off Goswami with South Africa nine runs away from victory. Wolvaardt missed a flick and was hit on the boot but the ball seemed to be missing the stumps, and with no DRS, it was not possible to check. Goswami earned a second wicket when stand-in captain Luus got a leading edge as she tried to chip the ball over the inner ring to hit the winning runs but found the cover fielder instead. The victory came eventually with a wide delivery in the 41st over, giving South Africa the win with 59 balls to spare.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent